Homework—First Week

I remember it as being a list of 330, which is still more than what I have been able to recreate below (currently ≈300). Then, as now, they’re in no particular order. I've tried very hard to chronicle what must have been on the original list, but that was nearly a half century ago, and that first day marked the fewest identifiers I would ever know (which was already a couple of dozen from my flying the previous 2½ years). I wrote them down as I thought of them—I started this list more than a dozen years ago, and the most recent addition was just a while ago, respective to the file date listed below.

Many—the ones within the facility (ZJX)—were obvious and easy to put on the list. The common ones outside the facility that we used routinely (the fixes on routes to high density destinations, for instance) were, too, but at some point, the line between what I knew in Jacksonville and what I knew in Chicago has become blurred (there were several dozen identifiers frequently used that were common to both—ORD, MDW, DTW, ROD, LAF, CGT, as examples). Moreover, I never saw some of the ZJX identifiers again after I left (SSC, PAM, NRB, for examples). In any case, I learned many more after I got down on the floor. And once I started in Chicago in 1973, hundreds more. I’ve estimated that by the time I retired, I probably had a working vocabulary of more than 1,500 identifiers. It’s possible it was more than that.

As you may imagine, it’s a bit of a tall order learning these in a week (try it, just for fun) as well as starting to put together the map of the area (dozens of airways—both high and low, for example). In our day (you know, two feet of snow—uphill—both ways…) we drew the map on a blank sheet of paper. In later years, the sheets were provided with a dot for each of the NAVAIDs on it. That's less difficult by a factor of ten. In addition, there were airplane types to learn—several dozen, and we had to learn their nominal speeds—as well as airline names and their abbreviations—a couple of dozen, at least.

For the purists out there, these were active and accurate identifiers in 1968. Since then, some facilities (military bases, for example) have closed, and some NAVAIDs have either changed names or identifiers, or both. Also, most locations I named as VORs are in fact VORTACs, the distinction being that a VORTAC has a TACAN (military navigation tool which is also the source of DME for civilian navigation) associated with it. Many times an airport with the same name/identifier was not colocated with it, resulting in an eventual name change (examples—JAX VOR, located at CRG is now CRGDAB VOR, located at OMN is now OMN).

(mouse over identifer to decode)


International Identifiers

Destinations outside the continental US usually use their full ICAO identifier. Some, however, also have three letter identifiers which might not be similar. Nassau and Freeport, are examples.



In training, and for a while downstairs, NAS and NAS shared the same identifier. I feel certain now that that was a local phenomenon. I also remember an encounter with one of my Flight Data School instructors, Gene Griffin, reading the riot act to Flight Data one day while he was working Ocean, for using it for a flight bound to Nassau when it was officially the identifier for The Naval Air Station at Pensacola. Maybe the Nassau version wasn’t even on the original list—it could easily have been a shortcut picked up in the “real world” down on the floor. That’s symptomatic of a never ending battle between theory and practice in almost any business. Within my first year, the identifer for the Naval Air Station was changed to NPA. Whether it was as a result of politicking by Gene and others, I don’t know.

On the main page, I speak of identifiers being the lingua franca of ATC. It's very powerful. To this day, I can scan through the list above and cite the name of the associated location in 98% of the cases. Worse, if you mention a city or airport in the U.S., odds are I can regurgitate the identifier for it. Not long ago, a friend of my wife, whom I’d just met, was relating a tale of her origins, growing up in Monroe, Louisiana. Instantly, with no thought whatsoever, my mind clanked out MLU, the identifier for Monroe. I hadn’t used that identifier since I left (ZJX) in 1973.

I find myself using identifers for locations when writing essays or mail for non-ATC people, just as a matter of course. It's insidious. Recently I got a note from a visitor who was a dispatcher for a major airline. He is similarly afflicted.

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Last updated: 02 September 2016